Friday, 24 October 2014

A week in the Quirky Bird In Between Garden

Wow, we really are doing well with the weather this autumn. September was glorious, sunny and warm, and October despite being blustery and rainy is actual still rather warm. That is not a complaint, its a relief since we still have to finish off the greenhouses for winter. After we were back from Venice last week we went off to Lanark to get the last three pieces of glass for the big greenhouse and to buy a tank of gas for the heater.

All the time we were at Easter Mosshat the greenhouse heater ran of the domestic gas tank, so I never really noticed the gas consumption, this winter will be interesting! The heater will be run of a portable propane gas tank, and I will very much notice the cost as they are £59 a time! It will focus me on keeping a keen eye on the temperatures every night. Having finally got the tank, we brought it home and connected it up to the heater. Once I managed to get the heater going we realised it was not a happy heater as a large flame was shooting out the far end of the bar! On closer inspection it became apparent the bar had completely rusted away from the heater housing. It is totally beyond saving, and to be honest I have had it since I bought it new 20 years ago! So there is no shame to it and off it goes to the great heater heaven in the sky.

Gas tank at back of the greenhouse and the dead heater

So it was onto the internet to look at greenhouse heaters. It's mind boggling how much you can spend on one. Decision made and 3 days later, today it has arrived. Now all I need is to be home in day light to connect it up and toasty greenhouse once the temperature drops enough.

Voila, the new heater arrived in the mail today

Speaking of greenhouse, last weekend we got the slabs down for the base of the wee greenhouse. As you can see from the photo we have laid them directly onto the soil. Ideally I would rather lay them on cement or sand. Our difficulty here in the In between garden is we have to put everything back as it was when we leave.

Slabs down, hopefully this coming weekend
we can get the frame up

Thursdays are good days because I finish work early and usually manage some bonus time in my own garden, weather and life permitting, though with the nights drawing in, its getting harder. Home just after 3.30pm, my first job was to try and locate Miss Milly our black cat who has gone AWOL again. Last time it was for three weeks until she was located on a local farm. So far this time she's been gone a week. I checked the sheds and walked around the field behind the house and down into the woods shouting on her. No signs. I shall phone the farm where she was last time. 

Plants from Fibrex Nursery

After that I potted up some plants I got from Fibrex Nursery earlier in the week. I've used this nursery for many years. They supply plants in 9cm size for excellent prices and their plants are always fantastic quality. They specialise in Pelargoniums, ferns and ivies. This delivery consisted of Osmunda regalis, Hedera helix 'Glacier', Hedera 'Fantasia' and Hedera 'Kaleidoscope' and two Gymnocarpium dryopteris (one of which got planted in the front garden bed, which I wrote about in a previous blog), . 

I then watered the greenhouse and did some dead heading and tiding. I am so pleased with how well my Pelargoniums are recovering since being repotted. A lot of them are having a late flush of flowers, encouraged by food and fresh compost. I thought I'd share some of them here.

Pelargonium 'Chocolate'

Pleargonium 'Rookley'

Pelargonium 'Snow Cap'

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Sunday, 19 October 2014


Last week David and I took ourselves off for a much needed get away: it's been a busy and stressful year. We considered Iceland, Venice or Grenada in Spain but decided Venice was the place to go. I have wanted to visit this city from a young age. The history, the intrigue and beauty of it beckoned and at last I was going. It was everything I hoped it would be and more. The beauty of going in October was it was still comfortably warm, 20 - 22 C while we were there, but much fewer tourists, so easier to get around and see everything. We drew up a list of must sees whilst there and things to tick off my bucket and to do lists, which we did and a whole lot more. Our feet were not happy but we really immersed ourselves in the city.

Summer bedding in window boxes in a cafe where we stopped for coffee

Being October, a lot of plant life was starting to go over. Venice itself is not particularly green, the outer islands are much more verdant, more of that later. There are some public gardens dotted about, but most of what we saw were window boxes, roof gardens and plants stretching over walls and canals, looking for light. Some buildings were hung with window boxes, pots on balconies and hung from railings: frustrated gardeners making the most of what they have. Some were mainly bedding and others were much more imaginative: mini gardens with conifers, shrubs, climbers and perennials.

One of the many buildings, with lots of window boxes

These were Gardenias, I bet the scent up there was awesome

Even in the alleyways there was greenery in pots

 Every so often we would see plants stretching over walls and canals, reaching for light between the buildings. Gardens tucked away in courtyards, glimpsed through gates and from the canals. There were some small municipal gardens, but mainly shrubbery and worn grass and occasionally in a square there was a tree or two. The Academia area to the south west of the city was much greener with more trees and the Betty Guggenheim Museum has its own garden. Many gardens tend to be privately owned or belong to hotels, which long ago were palazzos for the wealthy of the city. The monasteries, convents and parish churches also had gardens, producing vegetables and herbs and Venice has a rich gardening history despite the salty rain from the lagoon and shallow soil.

A fig reaching for light

Ivy doing what it does best

On our last day in Venice we did some island hopping around three of the other islands in the lagoon. This was relaxing and saved our weary feet a bit, letting the ferries do the hard work. These islands were much greener. Murano, famous for its glass, had lots of window box laden buildings and squares with deciduous trees. Burano, famous for its eye-popping painted houses had lots of pine trees, especially in the main areas along side the canal and lagoon. Against the painted buildings they really stood out, their needles helping them withstand the salt air of the lagoon.

Pine trees on Burano

Parthenocissus was popular in Venice and on Burano,
this one covered an entire wall all the way round a public park.

Lovely autumn colours on the Parthenocissus

Torcello is known as the pastoral island in the lagoon, with its church and surrounding fields, there are very few buildings which is refreshing. There were goats, large areas of vegetables growing and pomegranate trees! The space and quiet was very much welcome after the busyness and overwhelming buildings of Venice itself. After getting off the ferry bus, you have a lovely walk up to the Basilica of Saint Maria Assunta along a canal, bordered on both sides by fields and trees, There were pomegranates growing and a tree I hadn't seen before, Gledistia tricantjos with amazing long, bicoloured pods. Thanks to my friends and plant expert Colin for identifying them for me. 

Gleditsia tricantjos


Arum italicum growing at the side of th epath on Torcello

One of the things I really like doing when I travel abroad is visiting the local markets and seeing the local delecacies and produce. They are always so colourful and interesting. The Rialto area in Venice has a market every day and it was laden with colour and produce. Lots of recognisable fruit and veg and some different and unusual ones too, including lots of fungi.

If you ever get a chance to visit Venice, take it. It is a beautiful fascinating place, we had an amazing time there. We did all the usual things, on the first day visiting the Piazza San Marco, Basilica di San Marco, the Palazzo Ducale and the bridge of sighs. On the second day we went to Rialto bridge, the market and walked through the Academia district and we took a gondola ride on the Grand Canal. On our last day we explored some of the other islands in the lagoon. We ate in lovely restaurants and drank some great wine, the hotel was fantastic and we left early morning on a water taxi (a pimped up speed boat) James Bond style at speed, it was brilliant.

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Sunday, 5 October 2014

From weedy Strip to All Year Round Front of House Border

Last weekend I tackled more weeds at the front of the house. This border runs under the lounge window, you see it as soon as you come up the steps to the front door and its an eye sore, especially for a Quirky Bird gardener! So here was my next wee project. As I said before in this blog, its finding a balance between doing to much to a property we won't be in forever and making it liveable with. Again I have a planting plan for this narrow border I wanted to try out, so armed with my trusty tools off I went to be creative.

Before, a very weedy patch!

Barrow and tools at the ready

As with the previous borders by the front steps, I dug out all the weeds, forked over the ground, removing any large stones, rubbish and weed root and then topped up the soil level with soil from the back garden. One advantage of it having been a dry month, is the rubbish and weeds are very dry and light to barrow away, and the new soil light to barrow back.

Filling up with new soil

Again this planting scheme includes colour all year round through leaf form and flower. The centre is defined by a holly, Ilex x meserveae 'Blue Princcess', a bushy plant which grows to 6 feet in 10 years. It has lovely glossy blue green foliage and striking dark purple stems. 

Ilex x meserveae 'Blue Princcess'

To the front door end of the border are planted shade lovers. The sun gets round to this corner by mid to late afternoon, so the Darmera, Rodgersia and ferns with be happy here, offering interesting foliage and brightened up by Astrantia 'Snow Star and Trollius x cultorum 'Alabaster' with their white and creamy flowers in early summer. Again I have mainly divided up my own plants I brought with me from Easter Mosshat.

Darmera peltata

Looking from the corner of the house to
the front door

At the sunny end on the corner of the house is planted Centranthus ruber var. Coccineus with its bright pink flowers all summer contrasting dramatically with the acid lime yellow flowers of Euphorbia schillingii. Small Geum rivale 'Album' and Luzula nivea will contrast nicely through the summer. Every day when I come home I still marvel at the difference doing this border has made to the front of the house.

From here it was an obvious step to carry on round the side of the house, another narrow bed between house and slabs leading to the back garden. Not even a days work and so satisfying and so much better to look at.

Before, more weeds and stones
to clear
After, what a difference

From the side gate to the corner
of the house

Plant List for front of house

Astrantia 'Snow Star'
Centranthus ruber var. Coccineus
Darmera peltata
Epimedium 'Amber Queen'
Euphorbia schillingii
Geranium phaeum var phaeum 'Samabor'
Geum rivale 'Album'
Rogersia podophylla 'Smaragd'
Trollius x cultorum 'Alabaster'

Asplenium scolopendrium
Gymnocarpium dryopteris

Briza media
Luzula nivea

Ilex x meserveae 'Blue Princcess'

Plant List for Side of House

Clematis 'Nellie Moser'

Trees / Shrubs
Euonymus 'Emerald and Gold'

Asphodeline liburnica
Digitalis purpurea
Epimedium 'Pink Elf'
Euphorbia characias subsp Wulfenii
Geranium psilostemon
Ligularia stenocephala 'The Rocket'
Papaver orientale 'Allegro'
Verbascum bombycifera
Viola oderata 'Weimar'


My own plant collection

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Saturday, 4 October 2014

Bits and Pieces from the In Between Garden

The nights are fair drawing in as they say and there soon won't be any evening gardening after work. This week when I've grabbed some time in the garden in the early evenings, I have been watering and sorting out more plants that came with me. September has been warm and dry, especially so for Scotland, so this has meant moving the sprinkler around every evening as all my plants are in pots or large troughs, some showing signs of being too dry. Yesterday (Friday) and overnight at last saw a lot of rain, and because it was heavy it soaks the ground and is much more beneficial than light showers. 

As I mentioned in a previous blog the Pelargonium collection really has improved since being re potted, here are another couple of shots of them, new shiny leaves, new growth and some late flowers and looking a hundred times healthier. 

Pelargoniums in the big greenhouse for winter

Pelargoniums having a last flower or two

Pelargonium splendide, a lovely species Pelargomium

Whilst hand watering some of the pots on the patio, I noticed Heuchera 'Blackberry Jam' was looking a bit unwell, at first glance it looked like it may be wilting due to dryness, but knowing Heuchera and their pests I was fairly certain this was a case of vine weevils! Sure enough as soon as I touched the plant it came clean away from the soil, the first classic indication of a vine weevil problem.

Heuchera with roots eaten away by vine weevil larvae

Heuchera, Sedum and Primula are amongst vine weevil's favourite plants, but they do attack other plants. The adult (a black beetle like creature) lays the eggs in the soil and then the larvae hatch out and burrow down into the soil and into the plant roots, chomping away until there is nothing left. They are distinctive with their cream bodies and brown head. For something so small they do a lot of damage.

The vine weevil larvae in the Heuchera pot

I've never found so many vine weevils in one pot,
 there were 93!

The chickens had a nice evening snack, which got rid of the larvae and I now have four plants instead of one. The RHS has a useful page about vine weevils here: RHS Vine Weevils

From one plant to four

Because the larvae had eaten away all the roots, the crown of the plant fell appart. I stripped the pieces down, removed any remaining vine weevils and re potted them. They are now recovering in the greenhouse and will hopefully root and give me some new plants to pass on.

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